Explaining Public Disagreement over Risk: The Case of Disasters
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Citizens’ perceptions of the risk associated with various kinds of disasters are important. Public opinion on these matters can both compel and constrain political, economic and social efforts to address issues related to these hazards. Starting with the observation from surveys that there appears to strong public disagreement over the risk posed by various disasters, this thesis sets out to explain these observations. Three different kinds of disasters are selected as cases: terrorist attacks, oil spills, and long-term power blackouts. Although past research has identified a number of factors which may be relevant to the understanding of risk perceptions, there has been relatively little research on variations in risk perception within the public and even less on how these variations vary across different kinds of hazards. Drawing on relevant literature, a questionnaire was designed and administered by telephone to a nationally representative sample of 901 respondents. By means of multivariate regression analyses it is demonstrated that public perceptions of the risk associated with disasters are shaped by a number of factors, including values, political orientation, trust in risk management, as well as socio-demographic characteristics such as gender and age. Importantly, however, the way in and the extent to which each of these factors influences risk perceptions is highly dependent upon the particular hazard under consideration. While this was expected with regard to the effect of values and political orientation, it is much more difficult to explain why the effect of trust in risk management as well that of socio-demographic characteristics varies across hazards. Implications of findings to both risk managers and risk perception research is discussed.